YOU DON'T ASK for cola when you're thirsty; you ask for “Coke” or “Pepsi.” Do you want coffee or “Starbucks”? Would a plain shirt or one with your favorite sports team logo be more memorable?
Branding creates loyalty and awareness. It increases ROI (return on investment) and ROO (return on objectives), and builds equity.
So what does this have to do with event planning? It has everything to do with creating an event that not only meets its strategic objectives, but creates an environment that supports those objectives in a memorable and exciting way.
Simply put, branding an event properly can create the impetus needed for attendees to “want” to come, to perceive the event as the “place to be,” and to spread the word so others attend. And isn't that every planner's desire?
Now, just to be clear — branding isn't magic. You've got to have a good program and valuable content. But assuming those are givens, let's discuss how branding your event can make the difference between a good event and a great one with lasting results.
HOW AN EVENT BRAND IS BORN
First, identify your “vision” for the event. Your vision is the “big picture” of what impressions, memories and directives you want emblazoned in your attendees' minds and how you hope to achieve this vision. Court your vision until you know it well.
Next, commit. Decide on a theme to capture your vision. Your theme verbally and succinctly describes your vision. Mingle creativity with logic and find words that express this partnership.
Give your theme a face and a personality. Create a logo that paints a picture of your theme. Does your logo want to be born with a fun, sassy look, a serious corporate look, or perhaps an artsy face? Does it want to have a sleek, high-tech body or a classic, formal look?
You have just married your theme to your logo, and the two have become one. Congratulations!
Next, give your vision life. Decide all the ways available to clone your “themed logo.” Possibilities include programs, brochures, signage, gifts, gobos, napkins, centerpieces, presentation templates, Web registration sites, clothing and event surveys.
Carry on with the family name. Think of your “themed logo” as fondly as you do your children. It belongs to you! Use your vision to create synergy and a consistent marketing message. Display your theme logo at every planning meeting and use it in all event e-mails, presentations and other correspondence.
Voila! Your months of logo conception and labor have produced a healthy brand. Now it is time to take your “brand child” and introduce it to the world — or at least to your event audience.
Though the tongue-in-cheek metaphors above playfully describe the process of birthing a brand, the following examples show how real business events benefited from branding.
- Single event branding:
Event: An annual sales, marketing and operations meeting for 400 attendees.
Vision: To create a meeting environment in which attendees from all over the world who have different functions (sales, marketing, finance, operations and management) feel individually important, but also part of the company's bigger picture. Also, to provide an environment in which learning is facilitated and retention is enhanced.
Theme: We chose the theme “Rhythm & Hughes,” using the metaphor of music to show how single notes when played together make beautiful music. This theme infused our vision of making the attendees, who are often separated geographically or by function, realize that while their individual contributions to the company are important, they are equally important collectively.
Logo: Using musical notes (employees) on the staff (corporation) and flowing fonts pointing to our objective of synergy and teamwork.
Execution: We used the logo extensively — awards, badges, decor, Web sites, collateral. But more than just putting the logo everywhere, we used the vision of the theme throughout our event to help achieve our objectives.
A team-building exercise including individual handheld instruments culminated in a melodious symphony simultaneously ending on a single beat — reinforcing again that teamwork and single contributions are both great parts of the whole.
A live band demonstrated what it sounds like when musicians play randomly without following the conductor. Yet when that same piece of music was played with each instrument in concert, it created beautiful music.
- Repeat event branding:
Event: Unlike our annual meeting where the theme changes, we hold a yearly meeting where the theme stays the same. This is our Hughes User Group, or HUG. For HUG, we captured the mission of the event: to educate about products and services and to discuss and resolve issues.
Vision: To create an environment where folks from many companies would find the event valuable enough for them to be willing to travel and be away from the office for several days, as well as to pay a conference fee.
Our brand was simply captured in the logo strategically captioned “talk … listen … learn.” The theme was strategically implemented in every aspect of the event to promote networking, roundtable discussions, question-and-answer panels and session evaluations.
By creating a robust program that included excellent educational content, interactive panels and exciting networking activities, we branded the HUG event so well that attendance increased by nearly 50 percent the second year, with attendees asking about next year.
WHERE BRAND MEETS THE ROAD
In the end, what matters most is not that you have created a brand, but that your brand has helped you achieve your objectives. Measuring results is critical. A post-event survey — when properly deployed — will give you valuable feedback, both validating the success of your event and providing feedback for improvement. In our post-event survey questions, 96 percent of the respondents said they preferred our integrated approach where the theme carried through to the format and the content over the traditional single-speaker/PowerPoint format.
I believe branding creates the framework that catapults a good meeting to a great and distinctive event. It is the event's face and personality that greet your guests from first correspondence to last call.
So brand that baby, have fun doing it, and watch it grow!
Donna Gallagher, CMP, is marketing communications specialist with an emphasis in special events; she currently manages the special events program for global telecommunications company Hughes Network Systems in the Washington area. She can be reached at Donna. [email protected].